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Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories
December 3, 2015

The right and duty to break silence



Last Tuesday Israel’s democratic nature was put to the test once again. Unfortunately, like far too many other incidents recently, it failed. That day there was supposed to be a lecture by Breaking the Silence in a small pub in Be’er Sheva. The event, which was coordinated well in advance with the pub owners, was meant to acquaint people with the organization, of which I am proud to be a part. The lecture was to be given by one of the over one thousand male and female soldiers who have broken their silence and have shared stories about their military service in the occupied territories. Based entirely on testimonies by IDF soldiers that served in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the lecture is designed to expose the audience to the variety of IDF operations that continue to enable military domination over the Palestinian population, for over 48 years.

If we cut to the bottom line, at the end of the day, the lecture did not take place as planned. We were compelled to host it in the private homes of people who insisted on their right to listen to what is done in their names in the occupied territories. The failure of Israeli democracy is seen in the sequence of events that took place between the scheduling of the lecture and the Be’er Sheva Police’s issuing of the injunction against holding the lecture.

From the moment the planned lecture was advertised on our Facebook page, there was an onslaught of profanities, that included, among other things, flagrant threats to physically harm the pub owners, myself, other members of Breaking the Silence, and anyone else who dared to show up to the lecture. In light of these threats, we filed a complaint with the police, with the expectation that they would act against those issuing the threats, who didn’t even attempt to conceal their identities. We were disappointed to see that the police betrayed their duty. They failed to treat the extreme right-wing social media terrorists who incited violence, with the same efficiency as they treat Palestinians who incite violence on Facebook.

The police’s breach of duty was not limited to their passivity regarding the expressions of blatant violence against us on Facebook, but continued on to actual cooperation with those same far right entities, determined to prevent the lecture from taking place. In their effort to thwart the event, the police did not have a problem with the fact that they knowingly presented fictitious and distorted information to the court, on the basis of which they issued the injunction against the planned lecture. Thus for example, they did not hesitate to declare to the court that they were made aware of the event only a day prior. This testimony is very peculiar considering the fact that two days before the event, the police arrested a man suspected of threatening the owner of the pub where the lecture was to take place. Unless the Be’er Sheva Police have a time machine, it is difficult to understand this contradiction in the chronology of events.

Police conduct in this case and their capitulation to right-wing terror, similar to conduct regarding protests against the gas deal and obvious attempt to prevent demonstrations against the government’s plans, are not occuring in a vacuum. As the cliché goes, the fish rots from the head down, and the Israeli police understand the commander’s approach and act accordingly. In the current reality in which the prime minister incites blatantly against 20 percent of Israeli citizens; in a reality in which the de facto foreign minister makes public her messianic dreams of a religious war that ends in redemption; in a reality in which the minister of justice is pushing anti-democratic legislation aimed at silencing those who disagree with her radical views – who are we to complain about the Be’er Sheva Police’s investigative department?

It seems that today, more than any time in the past, the Israeli public is split between two rival camps. One camp champions radical nationalism with populist and racist messaging, some of whom have no problem with violence – whether physical or verbal, institutional or spontaneous. This is a camp that sees every critical statement that opposes its worldview as tantamount to treason. The other camp consists of those who understand that maintaining a regime of occupation is the mark of Cain on Israel’s forehead, which poses a danger to its future as a democracy. Every Israeli citizen should ask his or herself which camp they would like to belong to and within which kind of country do they want to live and raise their kids. I know that my choice and that of my colleagues in Breaking the Silence is clear. Our choice requires us to continue breaking our silence, and that is what we are committed to doing.


*  Achiya Schatz served in the elite Duvdevan unit of the Israeli Defense Forces from  2005-2008, and is now the Director of Public Outreach for the organization Breaking the Silence.

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